Everyone who has previously communicated via email put faces to names. There is an atmosphere of “the first day in a shared house”, we all want this to work, it’s just some of us live here already and know how the boiler works.
Here I meet the director, Jeff James, his dramaturg, co-writer and friend James Yeatman, lighting designer Lucy Carter and Helen Abbot, the assistant director for the first time. Helen is very welcoming and warm and off sets any anxiety. She has previously done the Observer Monday’s placement and is reassuring when I share my low-lying feelings of “spare wheel” in the room.
On the agenda for this production meeting is design and make including dimensions, floor coverings, props (spoiler alert- there aren’t any), all mumbled through and queried. I can’t comment on the actual design and concept, I’d have to kill you. Needless to say it’s a bit abstract and deceptively complicated. Although the designer Alex Lowde is present and answering questions, I’m not sure how this set was decided upon. What happened to bring the show to this point with this particular asthestic?
Piecing together overheard conversations, I learn that last year there was a R&D process on Persuasion. This involved the director, assistant director, dramaturg, lighting designer, possibly the sound designers, Ben and Max Ringham, and some actors; from which I gather much of the preproduction decision-making was drawn. Yet so much can not yet be confirmed or experienced until tech week: the qualities and properties of materials, how the set can be engaged by the actors, the impact of lighting and venue dimensions on set pieces. This no-mans-land seems to induce a mutually consentual, unspoken but acceptable level of risk.
We move to the ‘Meet and Greet’, an introduction of everyone from front of house to finance and the cast. 40+ professional people in a rehearsal room. This gives me a little rush of excitement, so many skills in one room. Mental note: I must learn one of those techniques for retaining names and faces and attaching them to job titles.
Introduced by Sarah Frankcom, director Jeff James then talks through his vision for the production: Why Persuasion? Why like this? What exactly is going to happen during the 1 hour 40 mins of live performance?
He conveys how, to his mind, the big question that the novel, and therefore the production, presents is- How should you organize your life? How do you most successfully balance family, money, property, friendships, work…? Jeff believes that if Persuasion teaches us anything, it is primarily the internal voice of intuition that we should listen to first and not be persuaded.
This half hour introduction highlights to me that most of Jeff’s creative decision-making has already happened. I am observing the final step in the process and its then I realize what rehearsal really is, for those working in indoor theatre. Rehearsal is about getting ready to perform. That simply means making relationships with your team, practicing the show together till its good and trouble shooting the logistics. Everyone has to come ready because this part of the process is about getting the bodies and stuff in the right place, on time. The real thinking, the creative journey, visioning, conceptualizing (however you term it) the production has already happened. Jeff tells this team exactly what Persuasion is or isn't going to be.
I think Jane Austen found a discreet, socially acceptable way to advise women by mirroring the behavior of the day back at them. There’s an authenticity in the normality of her characters and their circumstances, in a way that you don’t find in current mainstream, popular culture. We have become very heightened, so much so we’re look beyond the reality of domestic life for entertainment and inspiration. I have to admit, I like the fantastical, I’m not a huge fan of Jane Austen, I’m hoping I too can be persuaded…
Persuasion runs 25 May - 24 June